Restoring Faith in the American Presidency

Ashwin Prabaharan ’26

Opinions Editor

The 2024 presidential election is right around the corner, with candidates across the nation beginning to form exploratory committees and fundraise for potential campaigns. It feels like we just wrapped the 2020 elections, a harrowing and profoundly unique moment in American history. I’d argue it seems as if each election cycle shortens in length, and interested candidates begin to plot their ideal campaigns as soon as a new commander-in-chief is sworn in. There is no hiatus in American politics anymore. Our national elections are depicted as the supreme event governing the fate of our lives, and our votes are counted under that premise. Coverage and commentary fuel tension, stress, and an atmosphere of chaos. We find ourselves embedded with hatred, anger, and polarization unmatched since the dark days of our Civil War.

The presidency lands in many columns of perception when deciphering the American electorate. One holds that the chief executive can command the markets at his fingertips, single handedly weather the stormy present of war and strife around the world, reduce government overreach yet accomplish every public service goal desired by the voters, and be the utmost morally and politically correct person to step into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Another column demands that the presidency change hands given an inability to resolve problems large or small, and thus work to cultivate each national election as one of tremendous importance to the health and security of the American people. However, they require restraints on the executive’s powers and expect them to balance a set of obligations and standards imposed on their office. They require the president to neutralize any threat to our economic, social, and physical conditions but with constraints. Political scientists Thomas Cronin and Eugene Genovese eloquently summed these columns in “The Paradoxes of the American Presidency,” prescribing the Oval Office conditions and expectations that an elected commander-in-chief must balance to keep their mandate and govern effectively. 

We need to realign our interests and expectations if we would like to hold onto any hope of meaningful legislation and executive action on the part of our president. We do not want the president to be insulated from public opinion necessarily and have the office become a vanity exercise in essence. But expecting grand, revolutionary, and highly impractical action strips the office of any true constitutional meaning, clothing it only with the voices of the public demagogues on the airwaves and otherwise. The campaigns waged by candidates need to be scrutinized, not for bold idealism but for practicality. Pragmatic politics coupled with a hint of visionary leadership can prove much more effective than placing a demagogue in office who simply echoes what we say. 

The 2024 election needs to be decided on the merits of policy and pragmatism, not just unabashed liberal or conservative idealism. We need to accept that the kings we anoint need to seek assistance from others in the middle of the spectrum, and that moderation in politics is not the end of all things good. Washington does get a good amount right for the most part, and our perception of politics is undoubtedly a result of demagogues across platforms, groups, and nations wielding a new and unseen level of power. Washington, the Founding Fathers spoke of this reality, fearing demagogues swaying the masses and amassing power for their political interests. It seems bleak now, but we can fix it. Let’s expect more from our candidates, but adjust them to political reality, just a tad.

Featured image courtesy of VectorStock

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